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May 19th 2018
Much like Thespis before me, I do a bit of acting from time to time, as I've mentioned here before. This summer sees me returning to the stage for my third dramatic performance with St Anne's Players (fourth if you count my panto appearance last year, which I tend not to), in Alan Ayckbourn's Time of My Life. No, me neither. I'm playing a chap by the name of Glyn not, as one cast member finds himself saying more often than he'd like, Glen who, frankly, is a bit of a jackass.
Let me take you back on an incredibly self-indulgent trip through the roles I have played on stage. Hey, it's my blog, you can leave if you want to. But, er, please stay. My debut came as a vicar cleverly called 'Vicar', if I remember rightly in Beyond a Joke; I entered proceedings mere seconds before the end of the first act, had a fairly substantial chunk at the start of the second act (including being shut in a cupboard) and then died shortly into Act 2 Scene 2. To play the part I adopted a voice that I regarded as vicarly, a view apparently shared by the cast and director (and reviewer), even though various audience members thought I sounded Austrian and/or like Borat. And, when I say 'vicarly', I should say that it wasn't really anything like a genuine vicar my father, for example but seemed to suit the part of a theatrical vicar in a gentle am dram production, and I took some inspiration from the one in Dad's Army. I'm sure it seems unduly grandiose to describe what I did as a portrayal, but there were two things that were important to me in the portrayal: firstly, that it wasn't making fun of vicars (I think I managed this, although in hindsight the comedy socks might have been a step too far); secondly, that the character was never angry or unpleasant. So, for the aforementioned cupboard-shutting-in, I had the line: "What are you doing?", and in early rehearsals I was saying this indignantly understandable in the circumstances but later amended it to genuine curiosity/bewilderment, which I felt was more appropriate. If there was any part of my Dad's character that I adopted in playing the vicar, it was the desire not to offend people. Summing up, then, I think the vicar was awkward but kind, which is essentially all I've ever strived for in my own life. Oh, and if there's anything I was particularly proud of, it was learning to move from the bench to the wheelbarrow (partly being lifted by two others) while still pretending to be dead. That took some practice.
The next character I played was Detective Inspector Twigg, a blundering sidekick for Agatha Crusty (geddit?) in a murder mystery take-off, and he was great fun to play. In the auditions we each tried out for a few different characters, which is an interesting process because you only have a brief period to read the scene and try to figure out how to play each of the parts before being thrust on stage. Well, no one actually thrust me anywhere - and, indeed, it didn't feel very pressurised because we were among friends - but you get the point. I was quite keen not to be typecast as a vicar again (for which part Jim did an excellent job), and I didn't really do anything much with the other parts that I read, but DI Twigg was much more fun. One of the exchanges in the audition scene was something along the lines of: "Are you suggesting it was murder?" / "I'm not suggesting anything at the moment" (with Twigg, in case you hadn't guessed, being the responder rather than the... respondee?), and I thought that was key. Twigg seemed officious, pedantic, and glorying in the small amount of power he had: running with that, I used Boycie from Only Fools and Horses as my starting point, something that was picked up on by a few people.
While I could probably see less of myself in Twigg than in the Vicar (this might be wishful thinking), I really enjoyed playing him, and there was something freeing about being someone who is brash, would-be authoritative and massively over-confident. He's not exactly a sympathetic character, but great fun.
For the panto I played "Guy who has a few lines of exposition and then sings in the background in different jackets". I nailed it.
Which brings me on to Glyn. Unlike the Vicar and Twigg, I'm using my own voice, with the minor amendment that I'm using short A sounds (y'know, bath & grass instead of bath & grass). The reason I'm not doing a northern accent throughout is that, er, I believe the character would have tried to impress his mother by adopting RP, um... or, in fact, the gentler tones of, say, Worcestershire. OK. OK. I can't do an acceptable northern accent for any prolonged period of time. Anyways, in my previous appearances I'd found the voice to be integral to the character - perhaps a bit of a crutch, if I'm honest - so it is a little unnerving to have that stripped away. And this is really the first time I've played someone who is not a comedy stereotype.
Actually, I struggle to see how Glyn is a comedy character at all. Time Of My Life is indeed a comedy, albeit one that's a lot less broad than the last couple I've been in, but Glyn seems to me to be a tragic character stuck in the middle of it (and he's not the only one). No spoilers here, because I hope that you'll come and see us when we do our three-night run in July, but this one is much more of a test of dramatic range than I've ever experienced. Glyn actually has a character arc, unlike the other parts I've played (unless you count the Vicar's arc of going from being alive to sitting down to being dead). This isn't going to be easy.
The other tricky thing about the character is that, as mentioned above, he's a jackass. Not in the blustering, comical way that Twigg was, but in a self-centred, self-pitying kind of way. There are a few moments where he's quite sympathetic, and more moments where he's pitiable, but overall he's not a man I can respect. I've heard real actors say that, in order to play a role, they have to sympathise with the character at least partially - so, even if they're playing a villain, they try to understand the motivations etc. - and I'm trying to do that, but (no spoilers here) Glyn has done things that I can't sympathise with even slightly. I don't really see myself in him (unlike the Vicar), and I definitely don't want to take on his characteristics (unlike Twigg), so it actually presents an exciting new challenge in how to take him on. And, as we've been going through more rehearsals, I've realised that even in the scenes where I saw something sympathetic in him, I was probably misreading the situation a bit.
Last time I wrote about acting I apologised for sounding like a luvvie, but this time I've really leaned into it, to an extent that goes way beyond what my abilities warrant. Sorry again. And, more importantly than all that stuff about understanding the character and taking on the role and blah, blah, blah is that I have a lot of lines I haven't yet learned. Better get cracking.

May 31st 2018
You might recall the film Sliding Doors. You know, the one where Gwyneth Paltrow's life plays out differently based on whether or not she makes it onto the tube the sliding doors of a carriage being the ones the title is talking about and we see both parallel timelines alternately. Fortunately for the viewer, Paltrow's immediate reaction to successfully boarding the tube is to get her hair cut and dyed (and who among us cannot say the same?), making it much easier for us to work out which timeline we're in at any particular time. OK, the hair thing is actually in response to discovering her boyfriend is cheating on her, said boyfriend being played by a chap who would go on to play the Angel Gabriel in the BBC's excellent Nativity. That's not really relevant, except that it made watching Nativity a bit weird.
Sliding Doors is a pretty great film, in my view, notable for Paltrow's excellent English accent and for John Hannah's appearing in a film that people actually watched but which didn't have the word 'Mummy' in the title. Wikipedia also tells me that Dido's Thank You was used in the film a solid three years before it became a hit. There's no denying that the film is really just a typical romantic comedy with a gimmick bolted on, nor that the thing about John Hannah pretending he and his wife are still happily married in order to please his dying mother (spoilers) is the kind of contrivance that only Shakespeare can get away with, but I'm happy to overlook such things. It gets the thumbs up from me. It has also caused me to ponder the sliding doors in my own life, over the years, much like the Truman Show has often caused me to wonder if the world is tuned in to the dullest TV show of all time, Colin Thomas: Crosswords & Beard.
When we look back at our life decisions, it's usually the big ones that spring to mind (and I once wrote a post on this page about the best decisions I've ever made. Pluggy & Warwick loom large), but perhaps the smaller ones are just as important. Would I, like Gwyneth, have better hair if I'd caught more trains? Would I have more hair if I'd caught better trains? These are the questions that keep me asleep at night. Actually, in honesty, I have sometimes wondered if I'm living the "what would have happened if I hadn't taken that chance" version of events. Of all my character flaws, a lack of bravery might be the most impactful. Anyways, here are some of the doors that have slid in my life:

1. The Wolves shirt
For our eighth birthday, Mum & Dad got Simon and me football shirts from the local market (not the official shirts, but in the right colours) for Aston Villa and Wolves. In what I can only assume was a random allocation, Simon got Villa and I got Wolves; from that day forth I was a Wolves fan. So it is that I have felt elation, despair and everything in between over the last 24 years, aligned with something completely outside of my control or personal experience. To take a single example, I have enjoyed Wolves' march to promotion this season, spending my time smiling upon friends and strangers alike with a glowing exuberance rivalled only by Tigger and Jedward. Had my parents switched the shirts, I would currently be mourning "our" play-off final defeat to Fulham. So many of my Saturday evenings have been decided by this choice, and it wasn't even mine.

2. My first house in Bristol
Moving to Bristol, I didn't know anyone in the city, so I looked round a few different flat-shares for my first house here. In the end it came down to a choice of two: the one in Redland that I ended up choosing, and (if I remember rightly) a place in the Fishponds area. My time in Redland was not particularly happy, and I'm no longer in touch with any of my housemates from that time (eight of them, albeit not at the same time), but the knock-on impacts of living there have been fairly significant. The biggest one is my choice of church (Cairns Road Baptist Church), which I wouldn't have tried if it hadn't been within walking distance of the house. Over ten years later and I am still there and, indeed, I'm a trustee and many of my closest friendships in Bristol have sprung from CRBC. My first housemates after leaving the house in Redland, indeed, were people I met at church. I'm sure God would have led to me to a good church wherever I'd ended up in Bristol (or elsewhere), but I can reel off lots of names of great people that I would never have got to meet.

3. Getting lost on the way to church
Actually, while we're talking about CRBC, the first time I tried to go there I ended up getting lost on the Downs instead (I didn't have a smartphone and had attempted, very unsuccessfully, to memorise a map). So it was that I turned up the next week instead, which was a service with lunch provided afterwards. I sometimes joke that, as a recent student, the free food was what sealed the deal: in reality, the circumstances did play their part, because it was at the meal that I met Ben, Kate & Anna. They all remain good friends of mine, and if I hadn't felt so welcomed on that Sunday afternoon, I might well have continued my search.

4. Ticking the 'quiet' box
As mentioned in that previous blog post on great decisions, choosing Warwick University (and Rootes as my accommodation block) were two of the best decisions I ever made. The smaller decision, perhaps, was ticking the box saying that I'd prefer a 'quiet' room. This was not, I think, well-defined on the form, but it led me to be specifically in P Block of Rootes, where I shared a corridor with 12 others. Three of them (Ant, Rich, Rob) remain three of my best friends, 14 years later.

5. The Wheel of Time
One of my favourite series of books is the Wheel of Time, comprising 14 fantasy epics published between 1990 and 2013. I first started reading these in about 2001, inspired to do so by a girl from school who was a fan, and quickly became enamoured. Later I would bring them to university and my friend Ant would read them; later he would read them with his wife. Is it too fanciful to suggest that the entire bedrock of their marriage and, therefore, the lives of their two children is founded upon these books? Well, yes. Of course it is. It's utter nonsense. But, if I'm honest, I headed into this blog post with the idea that there might be lots of these 'sliding doors' moments in my life, and I have reached the disappointing conclusion that (so far, at least) this is wildly untrue. My life has apparently rolled along conventional tracks, where the flutter of a butterfly's wings has only ever had the knock-on impact of me saying: "Hey, look, a cabbage white". But in the film adaptation of my life Love Actuary (this joke will never cease to amuse me) this Wheel of Time thing will be one of the major subplots, and at least one of Ant's kids will go on to find the cure for cancer.

what was I listening to?
I Feel Free - Cream
what was I reading?
Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
what was I watching?
The Intern
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